Bird Fact Friday – All About Trogons

From pages 269-270 of The New Neotropical Companion:

Trogons are cavity nesters. Some species excavate nest holes in decaying trees; others dig into termite mounds. The Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) utilizes large wasp nests, after carefully removing and consuming the resident wasps. The species also utilizes termite mounds as nests.

The Resplendent Quetzal

Male Resplendent Quetzal, in all its splendor.
Photo by Gina Nichol.

Trogons feed on fruits from palms, cecropias, and many other species, which they take by hovering briefly at the tree, plucking the fruits. They also catch large insects and occasional lizards, swiftly swooping down on them or snatching them in flight. Trogon bills are finely serrated, permitting a tight grip on food items. Arguably the most spectacular member of the trogon family is the Central American Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno; pictured above), which is said to be the inspiration for the legendary phoenix.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Fridays – Flowerpiercers, the Evolutionary “Cheaters”

From page 173 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Flowerpiercers (a group of 16 bird species related to tanagers), like hummingbirds, consume nectar from flowers . But they “cheat.” Rather than forage within the flower, where they might encounter pollen and thus aid in cross-pollination, they use their delicately upturned and hooked bills to pierce the flower at its base and access the nectar without ever encountering the pollen.

Indigo Flowerpiercer

The Indigo Flowerpiercer (Diglossa indigotica) occurs in cloud forest in western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. There are 16 flowerpiercer species in South America. Photo by Andrew Whittaker.

Flower traits have been shown to evolve not only to attract certain pollinating species but also to discourage species that are ineffective pollinators or pollen robbers. Adaptations to reduce nectar robbery include adding toxins to the nectar that discourage robbers but not pollinators, flowering at times when nectar robbers are inactive, growing near plants that offer better food sources for nectar robbers, or evolving flowers that are physically difficult for robbers to access.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

PUP Statement on Marra and Santella’s Cat Wars

Marra and SantellaPrinceton University Press takes pride in publishing a diverse, global mix of voices, ideas, and arguments. Cat Wars by Peter P. Marra & Chris Santella addresses a demonstrable threat that free-roaming cats bring to the long-term health of bird and small mammal populations and provides a science-based survey of the subject. It looks at a wide variety of issues and attempts to provide dispassionate, objective analyses. The authors and the Princeton University Press do not support the inhumane treatment of animals.

All books published by Princeton University Press benefit from a rigorous and thorough peer-review process to ensure the highest quality of scholarship and accuracy.  We embrace the highest standards in our publishing, embodied in the work of our authors since 1905.

To learn more about Cat Wars, please visit the book’s PUP catalog page.

To learn about the Press’s mission, read more here.

The making of a field guide in Ecuador: an interview with Nick Athanas and Paul Greenfield

birds of western ecuador athanas jacketIn Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide, Nick Athanas and Paul Greenfield provide a practical field guide for birders wanting to explore the region. Filled with bright and beautiful photographs, their extensively researched and photographed volume is a striking guide for the area’s birds, with nearly every species in Western Ecuador included. Recently, both authors agreed to answer some questions about their personal passions for the project.

Why did you want to write Birds of Western Ecuador?

NA: I had been photographing birds in South America for about ten years, and had built up a sizable collection of nice images. I wanted to do something useful with them. Since I am also a birder and a birding tour guide based in Ecuador, a field guide to the region was an obvious project to think about. Iain Campbell, longtime friend and business partner, was working on a photographic guide for Australia, and encouraged us to do it; he put us in contact with Robert Kirk at Princeton University Press.

PG: Ecuador is a huge country in terms of bird species diversity, and with the advent of digital photography, actually capturing nice images of much of its avifauna made doing such a project a viable possibility. When the project was first presented to me by Nick and Iain, I hesitated a bit, only because I had already spent over 20 years working on the painted illustrations of the Birds of Ecuador, but after looking over some of the proposed shots, the idea of presenting a photographic testimonial to the Ecuador’s rich birdlife instantly became very attractive.

What is your target audience?

NA & PG: Our book targets English-speaking birders visiting western Ecuador, either on their own or on an organized tour. We assumed no previous birding experience in the Neotropics. However, the guide will be useful and inspiring for anyone with an interest in the birds of the region, even those with a lot of experience birding the Neotropicals. We excluded photos of some species that are very rare visitors to the region in order make the book smaller and more user-friendly, but it will have everything most visiting birders will see on a typical trip to western Ecuador. The excluded species are also usually mentioned in the text so that readers are aware of them. While not specifically designed for it, the guide also covers the vast majority of birds occurring in southwestern Colombia and northwestern Peru.

So this is a real field guide, and not just a collection of pretty bird photos?

NA & PG: Absolutely, this is a field guide. It was designed to help identify birds. The photos were chosen to show the relevant field marks, the text is extensive and helps to distinguish between similar species, and the range maps are completely new and based on up to date sighting information. Text, species accounts, and maps are all laid out side-by-side and everything is indexed.

Do you believe photographs can be as effective as paintings in a field guide?

NA: With good photos and clear text, I really do believe that. It would have been impossible even just five years ago. With the amazing recent technological advances in digital cameras, it is now possible to get great shots of shy rainforest species in natural light that were impossible before. The better gear also has led to an explosion in interest in wildlife photography, so there are a lot more people out there shooting bird photos. There are now good images available of the vast majority of the world’s bird species. A clear, sharp photo can show a bird’s important field marks at least as well as a good painting, and can even reveal features that other field guides might overlook.

PG: Having experience with both bird photography and painting, I believe that each presents effective, but slightly different strengths for illustrating field guides. Bird painting, with its respective pros and cons, can be quite effective—through hardly noticeable distortions—in presenting field marks from above and below a bird at the same time, as well as creating a sense of wondrous anticipation in the viewer. Bird photography presents the ‘real’ image of the actual species—it brings in the element of reality with ‘real-time’ accuracy when it comes to field-marks, ‘attitude’ and expression.

Were you able to get all the photos you needed?

NA & PG: All but a few. There were two species that we could not find any photos which were of high enough quality to publish: Berlepsh’s Tinamou and Colombian Crake. There were a few species where we could not find photos of one of the sexes. There are also a few of marginal quality, but in general we are extremely happy with the selection of photos. About half the photos are Nick’s, but we also invested a huge amount of time looking for other photos and contacting dozens of talented photographers. In the end, over 70 photographers contributed shots to Birds of Western Ecuador. It includes images of nearly 950 species. To put that in perspective, that’s more bird species than are found in all of the continental US.

This guide only covers half of Ecuador. Why?

NA & PG: We did not think we had the photos to do the entire country, nor did I we think we would be able to get them in the few years we had to write this book. Eastern Ecuador has significantly more species, and many of them are rainforest birds that are extremely hard to find and see, never mind photograph. Western Ecuador was a manageable starting place, and even still it was a far larger project than we anticipated.

Will you write a companion volume?

NA & PG: If this book is well-received, and if PUP is interested, we’d like to write another volume. It could be for eastern Ecuador, or possibly for the whole country. Most of Ecuador’s birds are in the East, so including everything won’t make the book proportionally that much larger. I think that in the years that have passed since we started Birds of Western Ecuador, many more species have been photographed, so that we should be able to obtain nice shots of almost all of Ecuador’s birds by the time a companion volume is finished.

Some people may see all these photos of amazingly colorful birds and be inspired to visit. When is the best time of year?

NA & PG: Come any time! We go out birding any month of the year and always find great birds. June-September are usually the driest months, and January to May are usually the wettest months. A lot of people like to visit the Northwest in the intermediate months of October-November since some rain is good for activity but it usually isn’t too much. January in the Southwest is usually great because the rains are just starting, the birds are singing, but the trees still haven’t leafed out much so the birds are easier to spot and enjoy. But really, if you can only come at a certain time, by all means do so.

Do you have a favorite bird?

NA: I have many! Hard to pick favorites when there are so many amazing choices. One of them, however, is definitely the Velvet-purple Coronet that went on the cover. It’s such a uniquely-colored hummer and its shimmering hues change depending on the angle and the lighting conditions.

PG: I have always said that my favorite bird is the one I am looking at ‘right now’, and I believe that’s really true. I especially get a kick out of remembering the circumstances when I first saw a species, each time I see it again; but how can you not go nuts with tanagers, hummingbirds, trogons, cotingas, antbirds, toucans… well all of them!

Nick Athanas is cofounder of the tour company Tropical Birding. He leads bird tours throughout the Neotropics and has photographed more than 2,500 bird species. Paul J. Greenfield is a longtime resident of Ecuador, where he leads bird tours and is active in bird conservation. He is the coauthor and illustrator of The Birds of Ecuador. Together they have written Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide.

Ten weeks, ten states, and a symphony of birdsong

listening to a continent sing kroodsma jacketTake a journey across ten weeks and ten states,  from one coast of America to another, as Donald Kroodsma and his son bike 5,000 miles and record birdsong along the way. In Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Kroodsma  provides a written account of this inspirational adventure that is one part personal memoir, one part guided history, one part invitation to pursue your own dreams. The book is beautifully illustrated, incorporating images of the vast terrain and animals the pair encountered on their trip. QR codes link to audio of birdsong throughout.

Click through to enlarge some of the book’s images here.

Follow the wild bees with Thomas D. Seeley

following the wild bees seeleyBee hunting—in which one captures and sumptuously feeds wild bees, and then releases and follows them back to their secret residence—is virtually unknown today, though it was once widely practiced. Thomas D. Seeley, world authority on honey bees, vividly explores the exhilarating pastime in his new book Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. A unique meditation on the natural world as well as a how-to guide, the book provides history and science about the craft alongside gorgeous photos and helpful diagrams.

Click through the gallery below to see some of Seeley’s essential tools for bee hunting as well as fascinating photographs captured during the hunt.

Bird Fact Friday – Penguins!

Dear Readers,
You may have noticed our Friday feature has changed from ‘Book Fact Friday’ to ‘Bird Fact Friday.’ We’ve seen how engaged people are with our Birds and Natural History list, and so we wanted to bring you more nature-related content! Going forward, we’ll have weekly bird posts focusing on everything ornithological. Check this space Friday mornings and don’t forget to tweet your nature pictures to @PrincetonNature!

Princeton University Press

From part 3 of Penguins: The Ultimate Guide:

Unlike many other diving birds, penguins swim with their wings while steering with their feet. Rotating shoulder sockets allow enough twist to generate thrust with both up and down wing strokes, a trait shared only with hummingbirds.

Penguins swimming

© Penguins: The Ultimate Guide, pg. 173

 

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide
Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite

k10335Penguins are perhaps the most beloved birds. On land, their behavior appears so humorous and expressive that we can be excused for attributing to them moods and foibles similar to our own. Few realize how complex and mysterious their private lives truly are, as most of their existence takes place far from our prying eyes, hidden beneath the ocean waves. This stunningly illustrated book provides a unique look at these extraordinary creatures and the cutting-edge science that is helping us to better understand them. Featuring more than 400 breathtaking photos, this is the ultimate guide to all 18 species of penguins, including those with retiring personalities or nocturnal habits that tend to be overlooked and rarely photographed.
A book that no bird enthusiast or armchair naturalist should do without, Penguins includes discussions of penguin conservation, informative species profiles, fascinating penguin facts, and tips on where to see penguins in the wild.

A note from Thane K. Pratt and Bruce M. Beehler on the landmark publication of the 2nd edition of Birds of New Guinea

Plate_095

BIRDS OF PARADISE, ASTRAPIAS. Copyrighted material from Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition by Thane K. Pratt and Bruce M. Beehler (Princeton University Press)

Twenty-eight years have passed since publication of the first edition of Birds of New Guinea. In that time, big changes have taken place in this important bird region. The human population has more than doubled, economic development—particularly mining and logging—has accelerated, and the loss of habitat has increased proportionately. On the brighter side, vast tracts of wilderness remain, several international conservation organizations have joined forces with local governments to protect the forest, birding as a form of ecotourism has blossomed, and a new generation of field researchers has taken to the bush. Exciting new information on bird distribution and biology has poured in. And as if to heighten appreciation for New Guinea’s avifauna, modern molecular systematic research has revolutionized the classification of birds and pinpointed New Guinea and Australia as the motherland of the world’s most prominent bird lineage, the songbirds (oscine passerines). In light of these changes, a new edition of Birds of New Guinea is timely.

A book must suit the purposes of the people using it. In many parts of the world—Australia, Europe, North America—field guides to birds are written mainly for birders (bird-watchers). These books focus solely on how to identify birds to species, how to tell the age and sex of a bird, and how and where to find it. Readers wishing to learn more about birds can turn to other books for information on bird natural history, ecology, reproduction, evolution, geographic variation, classification, and conservation. Unfortunately, much of this information on New Guinea birds can be found only in technical literature that is not readily available.

Plate_060_REV

DOLLARBIRD, BEE-EATERS, AND LARGE KINGFISHERS. Copyrighted material from Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition by Thane K. Pratt and Bruce M. Beehler (Princeton University Press)

It is our wish that readers in the field have more basic information at their fingertips. In the new edition of Birds of New Guinea, we have expanded the content of the species accounts to include more biological details—behavior, diet, nesting—than are typically covered in a field guide. As for the identification purpose of the book, we have also expanded the species accounts in this second edition to explain how to determine the sex and age of a bird, and how geographic variation is partitioned into subspecies (races). To accomplish all this, we have adopted a “handbook-style” format for the book. Rather than fitting all the information opposite the painted plates—the format typical of most recent field guides—our book presents detailed species accounts in the body of the book separate from the illustrations in the front, with abridged species accounts and maps facing the plates. We hope this additional information will be of use to birders, tour guides, biologists, and conservationists who enjoy New Guinea birds and strive to learn more about them.

Expanding the scope of the book demanded new artwork, and for that we drew up a plate plan that more than doubled the number of figures and resulted in replacing nearly all original artwork. The resulting book is as beautiful as it is informative, and we hope readers are as delighted with it as we are.


This text has been adapted from the preface of Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition by Thane K. Pratt and Bruce M. Beehler.

10 facts about penguins that will make you wish you were one of them

JacketIn case you haven’t noticed, penguins have become a cultural phenomenon in recent years. From “March of the Penguins” with Morgan Freeman’s narration, to Happy Feet, Surfs Up, and their respective sequels, penguins are as captivating as ever. (I myself adopted a penguin for a year from the Philadelphia Zoo) And let’s face it, being a human can be overrated and sometimes it’s fun to just imagine what life would be like as another specie. Here are 10 facts about penguins from Tui De Roy’s, Mark Jones’s, and Julie Cornthwaite’s new book Penguins: The Ultimate Guide that will make you wish you were one of them.

Pg. 173

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide, Pg. 173

 

1.    Penguins are exceptionally fast swimmers, clocking in at 22mph. Michael Phelps, in comparison, swims at just under 4.5 mph.

2.    Have you ever opened your eyes underwater and felt the sting of the salt or chlorine? Penguins haven’t! Clear nicitating membranes serve as see-through underwater goggles.

3.    Trust issues? Some species of penguins remain monogamous to their mates for more than one season. *Queue “aww”*

4.    Smaller penguin species like the Rockhoppers leave their half-grown chicks huddling together for safety while the grown-ups “grab some grub.” These are called “crèches” and the chicks are supervised by non-breeding penguin neighbors aka baby, or should we say “penguin,” sitters you can trust.

5.    Tired of hearing terrible pick-up lines or getting “poked” on Facebook? Penguins carry out exuberant courtship displays like sky-pointing and “ecstatic greetings.”

6.    They say if you’re ever stranded at sea, don’t drink the water, it’ll only dehydrate you faster, but penguins can process seawater by means of large salt-extracting glands in their foreheads.

 

Pg. 28

Pg. 28

7.    Never play hide and seek with penguins. Their binocular vision is as good as that of owls.

8.    Despite their awkward wobble, Penguins are impressively built. Dual purpose feet allow them to easily walk across wet and slippery surfaces while their surprisingly long (but mostly hidden) legs let them commute several kilometers to their nests.

9.    Wouldn’t you like to live in a world with gender-equality? Penguins do! Males and females rarely show gender differences. In fact, it is the male Emperor Penguin who incubates the egg while the female forages for food.

10.    When it comes to fashion, penguins never have to sacrifice form for function (or the other way around). Their sleek—and chic!—coats consists of around 15 feathers per square centimeter, the densest plumage of any bird.